• Forever Beeler: A Collection of Sonatas and Solo Music

     Forever Beeler: Sonatas & Soli
    Alex Janacek, clarinet; Ladislav Bilan, vibraphone; Petr Hladik, flute; Jan Dvorak, bassoon;
    Dalibor Prochazka, bass trombone; Kiri Kral, tuba; Luci Kaucka, piano.
    Jennifer Slowick, English horn and oboe; Karolina Rojahn, piano.
    Navona Records 6085
    Total Time:  78:36
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Composer Alan Beeler (1939-2016) taught at Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and at Eastern Kentucky University.  For this new release, we are provided an ample collection of work for solo instruments and unique combinations that explore Beeler’s musical language.  There are pieces of more serial nature, some exploring microtones, and a host of different harmonic explorations.  Throughout is a sense of his playfulness and humor.  Sonatas for a variety of solo instruments provide the variety in this extended program.

    In the Clarinet Sonata, the music is a microcosm of musical styles.  The first movement has an almost Hinemith-like harmonic quality.  The jazz roots of the instrument are explored in the central movement with rich extended harmonies and a nice lyric line.  We are closer to ragtime line prominently exploring a wider range of the instrument in angular jumps and lines as the piano provides additional forward motion for the final movement.

    Something More Cheerful Suite is a work for solo vibraphone.  The five movements are a set of variations.  The soloist must also be mindful of the unique attack of notes here in a rather accessible work that has a mysterious quality.

    One thing that comes across in these works is the way Beeler chooses to use the piano.  The Flute Sonata tends to find the piano in a more traditional accompanying role adding harmony and helping transition with repetition of flute lines, when it is not also doubling the line.  The opening movement suggests a more relaxed quality which seems to waft across this rather lyrical work.  The Sonata da Camera focuses a bit more on counterpoint and Baroque style in this work for bassoon and piano.  Each movement bears a descriptive formal title from the period.  The opening “French Overture” features a fugue after the introduction.  A chaconne is at the center of the work and features some of the lusher harmonic ideas heard in the earlier clarinet sonata with a beautiful lyric line.  The brief “Alla Concerto” closing things off.

    Karolina Rojahn is featured in a variety of works for piano that focus on some of the rhythmic connections and harmonic ideas found in the other chamber pieces.  We are in more serial territory with the tightly drawn My Identity Suite for piano.  Rhythmic ideas are used to help provide unity in each of the three brief movements.  While lines may be angular, most of the dissonance does not overwhelm the listener as the music also moves across registers.  A similar approach can be heard in the English Horn Sonata which actually sounds like a continuation of the earlier piece.  The Micro-Tonal Suite allows us to hear Beeler attaching these experiments in sound through different harmonic combinations and compositional techniques that focus on expanding and contracting intervallic relationships.  Quite brief works such as the 12-tone Quartal Etude and Beeler’s Fit ’06 are further examples of the composer’s integration of these harmonic and linear approaches to writing.  Usually these are done with a rhythmic idea that forms a connective organizing structure.  Every once in a while, there is a little, jazz-like gesture, or some motif that seem to wink at the listener rewarding their careful hearing of the piece at hand.  Even in works like the 3 Early Pieces and the Piano Sonata, we can hear the way Beeler crafts such miniature moments into intriguing musical structures.

    The performances here are all excellent with the different sonatas certainly allowing listeners to hear the way Beeler connects lines against harmonic components in his accompaniments.  All the pieces are uniquely looking to further enhance concepts of attack of a note, or chord, with fascinating shifts from these blocks of sound to more linear lyric movement.  The pieces each have a more personal and intimate feel even when the instruments may not be as known for such expression (bass trombone, tuba).  It is certainly an album that allows the composer’s work to shine.

  • More Batman Animation Scores!

    After releasing a huge collection of music from Superman: The Animated Series and The New Superman/Batman Adventures, La-La Land continues to explore the work from Shirley Walker’s studio of composers that worked on Batman: The Animated Series.  Most of the composers represented in this set have shown up in the previous collections and in other DC Comics animation projects that La-La Land has continued to mine over the past few years.  This features over 5 hours of music in this limited edition.

    This set builds on two earlier releases and provides further exploration of how Walker and her teams were able to craft some exciting big Hollywood music for this series.  The 65 episodes that appeared over 1992-1993 are among the most popular and respected animation programs.  The show came on the heels of Tim Burton’s Batman and fortunately the producers of this series continued that connection using Danny Elfman’s primary theme to shore up the “Main Title” and “End Credits”.  The former is fairly similar to Elfman’s film theme making use of orchestrations by Mark McKenzie.  It is presented without all the sound effects that were added in for broadcast.  La-La Land has also found a 2-piano demo made by Shirley Walker that is used to open disc three (another version of this appeared on their volume 2 set).  Twenty-four episodes are spread across the 4 discs.

    Disc one focuses its first portion on the two-part episode “Robin’s Reckoning” which focuses on a story arc introducing the Boy Wonder.  Carlos Rodriguez’s music for the part one focuses on establishing more emotional undertones to the story.  The brass sections in parts of this episode feel a bit tentative at times (this may be due to a drier recording acoustic).  Peter Tomashek took over responsibilities for part two and uses a theme and variation technique to accompany this episode which also features a brief cue from William Stromberg (“Redial”).  This somewhat heroic idea begins to peak through in the opening “Circus Memory” and even gets a bit of a waltz-like dance in the following “Fencing Memory”.  “P.O.V.” is one of two Shirley Walker scores on this disc.  The music follows a series of flashbacks as the story progresses and a variety of thematic ideas are used to explore the aspects of the story through the eyes of Bullock, Wilkes, and Montoya.  Elfman’s theme is interwoven into the final sequence (“Batman Fights the Mob”) as was the case in what is one of Walker’s earliest episodes in the series.  There are some early examples of scene climax music that will become familiar in the series as well.  The use of a character-defining theme can be seen further in her other contribution on this disc, “See No Evil.”  The episode introduces a villain who obtains a cloth that can make him invisible ultimately hoping to abduct his daughter from her mother’s custody.  The use of the glockenspiel here makes the music quite creepy with dark Herrmann-esque colors in the orchestration adding to that quality.  Rodriquez’s first scored episode was for “The Clock King” and uses a theme developed by Walker for the Temple Fugate character.  It allowed the composer to explore Herrmann-esque music similar to Walker’s own occasional parallel sound but also has some good off-kilter writing with the clock ticking away.  The other episode included here relates to Catwoman, “Tyger, Tyger” and features music by Todd Hayen.  A bit of the jungle atmosphere is hinted at early on in a presentation of Walker’s theme for Selena Kyle before shifting into Hayen’s music for Tygrus.  It does provide a bit more interesting action sequences coupled with some sinuous writing along the way.

    Music from Harvey Cohen’s score for “Cat Scratch Fever” that utilizes some of Walker’s Catwoman theme along with Cohen’s own interesting waltz-like motif for the character that is spread thought the episode.  This score would lead to his first Daytime Emmy nomination in 1993.  Walker is represented by two scores on this disc as well.  The first of these is the steel guitar and harmonica Southern flair music for “The Forgotten” (which features Tommy Morgan)  making this a fairly distinct episode musically.  Of additional interest is an early use of Walker’s Batman theme against an intriguing orchestral set of colors in string pizzicato and low reeds.  The score sometimes does feel like something for a classic 1960s show, with a few updates.  Her score for “Terror in the Sky” will close off the disc with the story revisiting the Man-bat mutated scientist Kirk Langstrom.  Walker reuses her theme for the character with an interesting technique used to simulate how bats “echo” sound to track prey.  It all leads to an exciting climactic final sequence complete with hints at her Batman theme.  Michael McCuiston’s first scoring screen credit came with “Be A Clown”, an episode that featured Batman grappling with the Joker.  Though he would use Walker’s thematic threads for those characters, McCuiston would incorporate two of his own, the first appearing in “Jekko the Magnificent” and another for “Jordan the Stowaway.”  The circus atmosphere combines Walker/Elfman-like dramatic underscoring very well.  Four additional source cues show off the composer’s skill with a carousel piece, and an unused “Circus Source” that would find its way later into future animated projects.  There is even a brief organ toccata.  An episode with the Scarecrow, “Dreams In Distress”, features music by Todd Hayen noted for some extraordinary dream sequences.  He also finds use for Walker’s themes written for each of the villains appearing in the episode integrating them into the music.  Finally, a joint effort by Lars Clutterman and Stuart Balcomb appears in “The Underdwellers” which introduced a rather odd character, The Sewer King.  Highlights here include a dark march (“Be Our Guest” has it filled out best with interesting scoring) and interesting orchestral colors.

    Some ethnic flair enters into the opening episode presented on Disc Three, “Night of the Ninja”.  Mark Koval uses occasional Asian scale inflections and is notable for the inclusion of a shakuhachi (played by renowned artist Masakazu Yoshizawa).  It is quite beautifully on display in “Karate School/Flashback”.  The atmosphere of this episode is continued in “Day of the Samurai” which aired much later and features a score by Rodriguez.  Further exploration of the shakuhachi’s expressive capabilities is made here along with a host of additional traditional Japanese and exotic instruments (kabuki blocks, koto, taiko, angklung, and otsuzumi).  Additional striking ideas created with trombones are also on display.  The more avant-garde approach is apparent from the opening track making this one of the more unique musical segments of the collection.  Lolita Ritmanis is one of the few team members who created one of the villain themes.  In this case it was for Poison Ivy who appears in “Eternal Youth”.  A couple of source cues, used for sequences on a cruise ship, make for a fun “Love Boat”-like orchestral disco number and a more lush “Spa Cue.”  The Riddler becomes the focus in “What is Reality?” scored by Richard Brodskill.  Here he uses techniques from horror genre scoring to create the creepy atmosphere along with the inclusion of some synth.  His scoring does have an often Herrmann-esque darkness at times in this episode as well with a bit more punctuation to fit some screen action.  Shirley Walker is represented by two episode scores on this disc.  The first of these “Prophecy of Doom”, incorporates her theme for the villain Nostromo, and displays her ability to incoproate, or suggest, more familiar music (in this case borrowing inspiration from familiar sections of Holst’s The Planets—most pronounced as the episode comes to a close).  There is also a bit of wit in the almost Hollywood-like opening track “Prophecy of Doom” which soon slides into more dramatic implications.  “Mudslide” closes off this disc exhibiting her ability to provide deeper musical suggestions to the sides of the villain Clayface and his relationship to the woman who loves him, Stella.  A classic Hollywood scoring idea is also heard in “Movie Source”.

    Music by McCuistion (“I Am The Night”) opens the final disc.  The episode is considered to be one of the best in the series featuring the Jazzman.  Overall it is one of the darker scores in the collection.  Also notable is for notating the music such that is sounds as if it is being played backwards in the climactic sequence (“Batman Saves Gordon”), and the final music that combines Batman and Jazzman themes.  In  the two-part “Heart of Steel”, composers Brodskill, Kline, and Johnson, each had a hand in shaping the scores.  “Blind as a Bat” uses music by both Steve Chesne and James Stemple and incorporates Walker’s Penguin and Elfman’s Batman themes.  The final episodes represented, “Paging the Crime Doctor” and “The Man Who Killed Batman”.  The former story’s crime syndicate focus leads to some noir-ish music and a good opening action sequence.  The latter features the appearance of The Squid and The Joker and is notable for the inclusion of organ, especially for the fabulous concluding sequence.

    The presentation of episodes is done to provide a more interesting listening experience and so they are not presented in episodic order.  Fortunately though, there are plenty of notes here to help discuss these episodes that receive multiple tracks and titles in the booklet.  John Takis takes readers on the journey of the show and its music to help provide further context for the release.  There are, by the nature of the type of music, a lot of tension-building sequences that are intended to end with a stinger for commercial breaks revealing some of the functional need of the scores.  However, La-La Land has done a fairly good job of providing each disc here with exciting music that moves well from one idea to the next, though disc three feels like it holds some of the series’ most interesting and engaging scoring.  There are “bonus” and special tracks spread nicely throughout the set as well.  One generally though forgets rather quickly that these scores were for animated television!  For fans of the series, this will be a must have.